The Labour Party has issued an internal memo to all of its elected representatives advising them how to deal with questions from the media over the party leadership.
The memo, which has been seen by RTÉ, was issued today following calls from five Labour councillors in the last fortnight for Brendan Howlin to step down as leader.
These calls were dismissed with 16 councillors jointly issuing a statement in support of Mr Howlin last week.
The memo from the party’s political director Nat O’Connor has been criticised by some party members as an attempt by party headquarters to “try to silence” calls for Mr Howlin to step down as party leader.
Labelled a “self-explanatory memo”, it states: “The Labour Party has a long history of adherence to democratic politics and the rule of law. The democratic credentials of the party include its internal affairs as well as its role in democratic politics.”
The Labour party constitution is very clear on the issue of leadership, according to the memo.
It also says: “The recent suggestion by a small number of councillors of holding a leadership contest is in effect a suggestion that the party should operate outside of its own constitution and rules, which would set a dangerous precedent that would undermine any future leader.”
The memo points out that media interest in the leadership issue has been sparked by the councillors’ actions in recent weeks. This means that “any party spokesperson wishing to speak about the issues of the day or party policies is inevitably faced with questions about the party’s internal affairs. This makes the job of getting the party’s message out even harder”.
The party’s elected representatives have been given five pointers if they are questioned about the party leadership.
Firstly, they have been asked to point out that Mr Howlin was elected leader, unopposed in May 2016, in line with the party’s constitution.
Secondly, they have been told that there is no vacancy in the party leadership, and Mr Howlin will continue as leader until after the next General Election.
They have also been asked to point out that “in line with the party constitution, there will be a leadership contest six months after the next General Election if Labour does not enter into government”.
The memo also points out that: “The only other circumstance in which a leadership contest might be envisaged is if a motion of no confidence in the party leader is passed with the support of not less than two-thirds of the membership of the central council. At present, there is no suggestion of such a motion being proposed, much less supported by two-thirds of the party’s central council.”
Finally, the memo reminds elected representatives that Willie Penrose, the chairperson of the parliamentary party, invited all of Labour’s elected representatives to the party’s September think-in event in Drogheda.
“This will provide all attendees with a forum to air any concerns that they might have,” it says.
One Labour public representative, who did not wish to be named, claimed that the memo accused party headquarters of “trying to silence elected representatives” and said: “I have been very disappointed with the reaction to the calls for a change of leader.”